My Turn: Measure 3 would harm Alaska

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008

If public funding of campaigns is such a great idea, why did Barack Obama refuse to take public funds for his presidential campaign?

While the idea of "clean elections" is seductive, in fact it is not "clean elections," but simply taxpayer-funded elections - paid for with your money. It will not reduce corruption. It will not reduce the influence of special interest groups. It will not make the legislators more accountable to the voters. It will not produce a single positive change in Alaska politics or elections.

It will simply make the process a lot more difficult because of another layer of complicated government regulation, while giving millions of your dollars to individual politicians in the process.

Here's why:

Ballot Measure 3 creates a system pursuant to which the taxpayers will be forced to fund the political campaigns of candidates that may be totally unacceptable to you, the taxpayer. The government has no business interfering in political campaigns in this manner. Using taxpayers' dollars to pay for candidates' election campaigns is a waste of your money, with no corresponding benefit to the voters of the state of Alaska. In addition, this measure harms the political system, as shown by actual experience in Arizona and other states.

Under this ballot measure, candidates may choose whether to participate in the publicly funded election system.

The details of how the Alaska system would work are important. Let's use the governor's campaign as an example. A participating candidate must collect 3,000 campaign contributions of exactly $5 each, for a total of $15,000. These $5 contributions can and will probably be collected by professional organizations and fund-raisers. These contributions are then turned over to the state. In return for this $15,000, the taxpayers pay the gubernatorial candidate up to $250,000 for the primary election campaign, and an additional $500,000 for the joint governor/lieutenant governor campaign in the general election. This is quite a return on investment - $750,000 taxpayers' money in return for $15,000 of other people's money. This same problem exists for lieutenant governor, state senate and state house candidates.

It gets worse, however. Suppose a governor candidate is personally opposed to taking public money for the campaign and elects not to participate in the system, or suppose someone makes independent expenditures in favor of that candidate. If that candidate and the independent expenditures are greater than the publicly funded expense limitations, then the taxpayers may pay up to $825,000 to a gubernatorial candidate for the primary election and up to $1,650,000 for the joint general election campaign.

The government should not be funding election campaigns. This is a waste of taxpayers' money. Massachusetts once had a publicly funded election system. It was repealed by the Legislature in 2003 because it wasted taxpayers' money with no corresponding public benefit.

The state of Alaska fiscal note, published in the official election pamphlet, states that potential costs to the state for the first election are $11,922,000. It also recognizes substantial additional funding mechanisms for the additional situations where a publicly funded candidate is opposed by a candidate who does not take public funds or where a publicly funded candidate has had independent expenditures supporting the opponent. This could increase the costs of the program substantially.

Arizona is the state that the proponents of publicly funded elections often cite. However, after a study of the Arizona system, Hayward, "Campaign Promises: A Six-Year Review of Arizona's Experiment with Taxpayer-Funded Campaigns" (2006), concludes that the Arizona system fails to deliver on its promises, and costs the people of Arizona a lot of money and has actually reduced participation and confidence in government.

A University of Missouri study, "Campaign Finance Laws and Political Efficacy: Evidence from the States" (2005), also concludes that public funding laws have a statistically significant negative effect on public views of whether "people have a say" in their government, or whether "officials care." Only strong disclosure laws have a positive effect on public views of political efficacy. Ballot Measure 3 is not a strong disclosure law.

Vote no on Ballot Measure 3. It harms Alaska politics and elections.

• Kenneth P. Jacobus is an Anchorage resident.

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